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Inactive File => Arkenstone Publishing => Topic started by: Eero Tuovinen on December 13, 2008, 12:18:47 PM

Title: [To Playtest] Colonization of Qek
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on December 13, 2008, 12:18:47 PM
In the new TSOY book I'm going to have these things I call "campaign frameworks", essentially short articles on how to kick up a specific sort of campaign based in Near. I'm explaining the method in another thread. ( I'm going to need to playtest this stuff, and I invite others to do so as well if you get an inspiration and opportunity. The reason I'm playtesting campaign frameworks instead of the crunch directly is of course that this way I get to playtest both: each of these campaign frameworks I put up for playtest has both crunch that needs verification and the campaign framework itself that needs to be tested.

The second campaign framework I wrote for Near that was not directly based on what Clinton writes in TSoY was this idea for a colonial campaign in Qek. It's my answer to the question of how Qek as a location is relevant. As you probably know, Qek is far from an obvious setting for actual play of TSoY - I've never seen anybody play a campaign in Qek, the only way the jungle continent shows up in the game is when a character comes out of Qek to adventure in other places. I ascribe this to how Qek is not a part of any cultural clashes in Near, which leads us to the question of how to make it so. This is my answer.

Colonization of Qek

In the colonial campaign the people of the south come into Qek in search of riches of various sorts. Some come with the intent to stay. The colonial push is led by Ammeni lords who wish to bring the riches of the jungle continent out into the open for their own benefit and that of the world. Many colonists are middle and lower class Ammeni who have no place in the parts of the homeland overrun by slavery. Others are soldiers. Yet others are opportunists and homeless wanderers who end up in Qek through fate more than anything else. Many are outlaws or exiles.

Obviously the colonists have to deal with the native peoples of Qek, who react in no clear-cut and organized manner: most family units keep out of the way of the foreigners when they can, while hunters met in chance encounters will test and slay savagely any lone outlanders they find unworthy. The Qek culture shirks from real contact with the incomprehensible outside. Those families that are dependent upon the sea for their ancestral survival lore are often forced into contact and may lose the trust and acceptance of inland families.

Meanwhile, the outlanders are hardly more organized, the sea belongs to whoever dares to take to it. Many of the comers do not care of the natives - they're here to use the land and the natural resources. Others seek to exploit the Qek in different ways. Some stay only to burn down the bridges they need to to get what they want, others are looking to craft a compromise with the jungle, one that allows them to live. The Qek are wrong if they think that they can just kill and deny the outside world. The foreigners are wrong if they try to conquer the jungle without the keys the Qek have to it.


OK, it's pretty obvious that this campaign frame is all about Africa and the white man, distanced just enough to free the players from hunting Wikipedia for real placenames. I don't mind. There's an interesting structural thing in this campaign, though, which I'll explain down below. Specific rules for how the jungle works and how it shapes the interactions of the natives and the outsiders, in other words. I find it interesting how very tense the basics of survival can be for the colonists of Qek before they get their hands on the crunch the Qek use to survive their land. Protagonists of both cultures are forced to change to survive, and the jungle leaves its mark to everybody.

Character types

Player characters in this set-up are either natives or outsiders, obviously enough. They don't all have to be one or the other, either, but some of them should certainly be outsiders. Of course playing an all-Qek game is possible, but that loses some of the dangerous feel from the jungle. The player characters can be set up as part of a group of colonists or explorers, or they can all wander in Qek regardless of each other. Characters are easy to bring together later when they need all the help they can get to survive in Qek, should the players want that.The Ammeni is my primary choice for an outside culture because they're the sort of people who'd go for colonization, and I find them interesting as potential protagonists. The colonial setting allows a sharper focus on the less visible lower and middle classes of Ammeni society, as well as giving us a side of the culture that is sidelined by Clinton - Ammeni as explorers, scientists and merchants who take immense risks to tame the world.

I don't really need to list possibilities here, I'm sure you know what I'm discussing. If I were playing this, I'd go for an Ammeni lordling with an ambitious vision of opening the continent. That'd be fun to play.


Of course all Near crunch is applicable, but the specific bits that are more relevant than others are the Qek and Ammeni cultural stuff. Specifically, this list is pertinent, roughly in the order of importance:
  • General Ammeni stuff is used to style characters from there.
  • General Qek stuff to style the natives.
  • Qek knotwork crunch is crucial to the procedures, below. (From the Finnish edition.)
  • Ammeni economical crunch. (From the Finnish edition.)
  • Ammeni poisoncraft, Walozi magic, etc.
Not all of that is in the original TSOY book or easily available in the Internet, so I'll attach the difficult to find bits to this thread.

Procedures of play

To play this campaign, the players create characters through the normal procedure. Meanwhile, the SG prepares a special adventure map. The colonial campaign involves a lot of travel as characters need to get to and from different sites in the Qek jungle. As described in the Qek crunch, the jungle is not mapped; instead, the SG has a graph-form map of knots (sites made familiar and safe to the Qek by knotwork ritual practice) and paths (conventional routes between knots). The key to the colonial campaign is to create this knot map in advance and to force the realities of the jungle at the players with it.

(If you're not familiar with the knot stuff, now's the time to scroll down and take a look - the following won't make sense otherwise.)

The knot map is best understood via an example. Here's a simple one I made for the purpose:


Each dot on the map is a knot made by some tsafari and then taught to others. The lines are paths, established connections. The greyed out "Moot Grounds" are an example of an Area, a portion of the jungle limited by paths. (The "Clear Pool" knot is situated in what might be termed the "West Moot Grounds" if one wanted to use the Maxtla-Moot path to further split the Area.) As the rules explain, knots and paths are really the only way to get around in Qek reliably: you need to know a given knot to even try an Ability check for travelling there. Or you can use an established path, in which case you don't need the knot, but still need to make the check. To get rid of the Ability check component of travel you need to both know the knot and use a path. Some knots are not connected to paths, in which case they only way to find them is to stumble on them when getting lost (an extremely hazardous practice, I imagine) or knowing the knot.

This particular map presents the stomping grounds of four particular families near the sea coast. The Itzel family is the eldest, and deferred to by everybody except Ocelopan, who came here from farther away and is only tenuously related to the others. The Ammeni have formed their trading post a year or two ago some ways east of the primary sea inlet of this group of families. Runti's brother (remember, these families are literally the families of individuals whose names they carry), a travelling tsafari, immediately went to the Ammeni when he returned to the area; he knotted their location and taught the knot at the moot to some men from the families for their protection. No path exists yet for the Ammeni to use and find the places where the families live, but the Ammeni have no trouble finding the Maxtla family, whose curing huts and boats are relatively easy to find on the coast. So the Ammeni might breach inland somewhat productively by treating with or attacking Maxtla and then using the paths to get further into the jungle. The "Moot Grounds" is pretty much the area these local families know best and consider their own, so it's where they'll hide out and seek additional strengths if the going gets rough.

The key to the Qek campaign is that the SG prepares and updates as necessary a map of the jungle, which becomes a constraint on action, forcing characters to make compromises with others who have the necessary knowledge. I'm thinking of real power in the hands of the native guide, character archetype who is usually sidelined by colonial fiction. The map includes everything that has been established about the jungle and its locations; it's also easy to copy for the players in a running manner as they uncover the complex web of knowledge the natives possess. (Most locations in the jungle are knots simply because there is no reliable way to find the same place twice without knotting, but of course such might get established in play - use empty circles instead of dots to mark those, I'd guess, so it's easy to color them in when and if a character creates the knot.)

Example reasons for why outsiders want to get into the jungle include access to rare herbs, precious metals and exotic magics, as well as a more full-body contact with the elusive natives. Foreigners who infest and compromise the knot-network finally have the capability for staking the mysterious Qek and forcing them to interact, whether in constructive or hostile manner. Slaverunning might be the ticket out of exile for an Ammeni noble, for example, but just as easily a merchant might wish to establish a genuinely equal and safe trading ground with the distrustful Qek. And, of course, gaining access to the Qek grants further leverage in capturing or buying the services of knotmasters and tsafari who can provide further connectivity for the outsiders.

In actual play the geographical map can be combined with the traditional adventure map as outlined in the Solar System SGing instructions, or the geography can play the star role; the SG needs to decide what sort of notes he needs.

Ideas & notes

Qek as mysterious, incomprehensible and dangerous. Hunters will test foreigners to see if they have the spirit to survive in the jungle. Homesites and other important places are kept hidden from outsiders, protected by the jungle. Cooperators will be scorned, but Qek are humans, too, and live a near subsistence existence; they can benefit enormously by foreign resources, too. Clash of customs.

Walozi deep in the jungle. Powerful magics that may be entreated by anybody, as long as they can find the places. Ancient knots upheld by undying rohos. Qek turning to warfare, using the marginal knot effects (such as uncapped Pool expenditures) for killing. Foreigners burn forest, poison springs, die of diseases. Expert magicians brought from afar to tame the land. Power-agriculture fails. Loads of exotic furs, slaves, gems & metals breath life to the colony. Play in terms of seasons, long-term developments, follow the progress and choices of a colony.

Develop Ammeni trade crunch. Trade routes with mechanical effects to parallel the Qek geographical understanding. Ammeni trade riddles the Sea of Teeth, visit other lands nearby for alternate perspectives and to get out of the jungle. Similar understanding of space (space as a network of relationships) a basis for cooperation between Qek and Ammeni? Is balanced relationship possible, or is culturally destructive interaction the only choice, even if peaceful, when the Qek are brought into contact with the outside world? Or is the jungle so strong a proposal that it defeats the outside world? Will the colonist or explorer have to go native to survive?

Ape-goblins, ancient elven knot-keepers, hostile Khalean traders to spice things up. Requirements and orders from the home-land, threats to cut off support if unreasonable demands not followed. Pressing personal ambitions that lure protagonists into taking the risks with the jungle. Relative safety and death by thousand cuts on the coast, or risking it all out there. Contrast between characters bound to these godforsaken shores by duty, by poorness, by ambition, by curiousity or mere emptiness of life. Ultimate fate of the colonization efforts, closing of a continent, turning the back to a failed effort; triumphant return, turning resources and experience gained into leverage in the homeland, raising a house and felling lords.

Playtest advice

In case you want to help me playtest, here's a checklist of things to do:
  • Prepare the scenario in the manner I suggest above. I want more knowledge about whether people can get anything out of this sort of "geographical story mapping".
  • Create Ammeni characters who either want to get rich or are already rich. Those rules need to be tested, and this is as good a place as any. Make a Qek player character if you want, too, but don't make too many of those - I'm more interested in how characters learn the Qek crunch in play.
  • Start with player characters who don't necessarily know a lot about knots and Qek crunch in general, but who learn to succeed in their ambitions. Play until you figure out where the game's going and whether its going to work.
  • Let me know how it went and whether the crunch or campaign model should be improved somehow. Especially keep an eye out for blank directions in the crunch: play creatively and with full force, don't hesitate to create new crunch as necessary, but also let me know where I've developed unnecessarily much and where I should have provided more.
  • Get some characters lost in the jungle and see how you solve the issue, if possible. I'm not certain myself how it should go. Perhaps it has to be a situational choice, so the character gets the bad consequences that relate to why he was in the jungles in the first place.
  • Figure out how many Advances characters need to invest into the knot stuff to be viable in fulfilling their jungle ambitions. Same for making a believable, heroic tsafari. Find out whether knots are as powerful as I believe them to be. Remember to provide alternatives, such as walozi crunch and situations and Ammeni stuff - we need to find out whether players find the knot stuff appealing.
  • Let me know if you find that some other Near stuff works really well for this campaign. I like Ammenites, but perhaps there are some other obvious bases to go with. Anything can be used, but what is more natural and what is less?
  • If there is something you need to know about Qek or the method of the campaign or something, and I've forgotten to write about it, ask here. I'll answer.
  • Play something like 2-3 sessions, if possible. I estimate that the things I want to know should have been discovered in 3 sessions at most, but what do I know. You know your group better than me, but consider setting the Advance cost to 5 xp or even to 3 for the special playtesting purpose. That latter might make players spend Advances too easily, though, so beware.
  • Remember to create interesting Keys. I don't usually bother making these in tow with crunch, but I assume that characters will have appropriate Keys related to wealth, knots, walozi or whatnot.

Also, a crucial Qek Secret I just realized is only in the Finnish edition: can't play real Qek without this one:

Secret of Sudden Strike
The character attacks so suddenly in conflict that the enemy has to counter with a Passive Ability. Usable with any Vigor-based Ability, but only when surprising the opponent. Cost: 1 Vigor

Title: Re: [To Playtest] Colonization of Qek
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on December 13, 2008, 12:19:19 PM
Qek Knotwork

These rules were in the Finnish edition of TSoY. I'll probably revise them a bit when I polish this up for the new book, but I should have done a rough translation at some point for the forums... ah, here ( I'll copy and polish a bit:

Nobody's been to every valley

The Qek jungles are difficult and dangerous to traverse. Nobody, not even the Qek, knows it's every corner. Qek may, however, improve his chances in the wilderness by listening to his parents and looking carefully at the terrain. For game purposes there is no map of Qek. Instead the characters may have terrain knots, representing places the character knows. These are frequently oral tradition, crafted in poetic form by local families. Knots are both practical knowledge and spiritual acts of binding the spirit of a place, there is no separation. A character who creates a new knot is honored with the title of tsafari, a knotmaker. A character who knows many knots may be called a knotmaster. Each knot belongs to a given place or landmark, like the Knot of the Deathriver or Knot of the Birdrock. A Qek character has to be able to name a place to knot it.

Many tsafari spend their lives travelling the jungles and coasts, searching old ruins and crafting poetry of the things they've learned. A tsafari can usually find hospitality with families not his own, assuming he is willing to tell tales and teach knots. Knots are created and undone with the Secret of the Tsafari. Knots can be learned from other characters, just like any secret. Knots are otherwise like secrets, but a character may learn several of them in a row, like zu syllables. When the roho of a place has been knotted with the secret, no other character may knot it again; he has to learn the knot from somebody who already knows it. When the sasha of the original knotmaking tsafari fades, the knot is undone and all characters who know it lose it.

Using knots

A character who knows a knot finds his way to it with a successful Jungle Travel (R) or Wilderness Survival (I) check. There is no other way to find your way in the jungle reliably. The check may garner penalty dice if the character is farther than usual from the knot, doesn't know where he is or has other such difficulties. A character without a knot is bound to get lost in the jungle unless he knows some other ways of travel - he simply doesn't know which way he should go, and will soon get disoriented by the sinuous hills and bogs of the jungle, and the sun that peeks only intermittently between the leaves.

The player may use unlimited Pool in Ability checks whenever the character uses the terrain of a known knot to his benefit, or works against the terrain. For knotting purposes anything that has not left the location of the knot since it's creation is "terrain" (including buildings or even people in the case of young knots). Example uses are stalking, hunting, hiding, gathering, looking for herbs, building in the location, knowing the history of the location.

If a character tries to use the knot against another character familiar with it, the opponent may prevent the usage for one scene with a resisted Jungle Travel (R) check. The character with the less direct oral lineage to the tsafari who made the knot (that is, the character who more directly learned the knot from the original source) gets a penalty die for the conflict.

A Path is a way between two knots. An Area is a space limited by Paths. These concepts are used by knot-related secrets. Paths are used to establish easy routes between places, Areas are used to determine geography.

Getting lost and travel without knots

The knot-lore is really not an optional part of life in Qek - it's unfair, but a person who wants to get around safely has to know his knots, or at least be pointed to the right paths between knots others know. A person who is knot-aware in the local environs is termed a knotmaster; a person who doesn't know the knots but knows the most important paths is an adult; the person who can't reliably use the paths is a child, kept at home and safe.

When characters go haring off into the jungle without knotlore, or when they fail in the necessary Ability checks to stay on paths or navigate to known knots, the SG gets to frame complication scenes for the lost characters. A lost character might be constrained by tiredness, light or other conditions to trying to limited travel opportunities (such as trying to return whence he came before getting even further lost). He might also stumble on dangers in the jungle, such as hostile animals or stranger things. Ultimately the SG has to make the call as to how these frequent travel conflicts in the jungle are going to feature in his dramatic coordination.

Being lost is traditionally a bit of a problem in rpgs, as it's usually just a matter of slowing down the game. We need to figure out a way around that. Probably the key is to treat with the lost condition as a tacit permission for the SG to screw with the character; he gets late to wherever he was going and thus automatically fails his efforts, whatever they were. Or he stumbles in the jungle and gets injured and poisoned. Perhaps the SG just needs to choose real enough stakes for such conflicts so as to present the jungle as a real danger.

Knots in the civilization

There's nothing in principle stopping a character from creating knots outside the jungle (even if nobody has before the game starts). A single city could be a knot, or in the case of the northwestern plains, a knot could cover a full day's travel. The character needs the equivalent of the jungle travel Ability for the terrain in question, however, like Plains Travel (I) or Maldor Travel (I). Any abilities of this manner invented during the game are always cultural for both Qek and the local culture both, as the Qek-born are used to looking at the world in these terms. All secrets concerning knots always use the terrain-appropriate abilities instead of jungle travel in these situations.

Jungle Travel (R)
The Qek cultural ability concerning travel in the Qek jungles, and knowledge of the terrain and geography. Usable in travelling long distances, finding a certain kind of place (a freshwater spring, say) or simply in supporting Wilderness Survival (I).

Secret of Tsafari
The character can create and unmake Knots. In addition, the character can discern whether a given location is knotted, and whether it may be knotted (reasons for why not range from the place not having a roho to it simply being a part of a larger place), with a successful Pray (V) check. A Knot can be created by going to the location in question and staying there until the next solar eclipse (the end of the month, in other words) preparing and calling the spirit of the place. Before the month is over the character will face a mortal danger specified by the SG, summoned by the roho of the place. During the eclipse the player makes a Jungle Travel (R) check (penalty dice if the character's been in the place only a little time) to create the knot. If successful, the knot is created and the player pays an Advance for it. A Knot can be unmade with an identical ritual, except using Pray (V) as the ability. The creator of the knot knows immediately when the unmaking ritual starts. Requirement: be lost in the jungle, and tie a knot to survive.

Secret of Jungle Travel
The character is a rugged traveller and gets some slight breaks with the merciless jungle. He can make a Jungle Travel (R) check to create an Effect related to his knowledge of a place, whether knotted or not. The Effect, apart from its normal uses, allows the character to find his way to the same place again, similar to how a knot functions. Requirements: This Secret is not very common among the common Qek, who prefer knots for their superior qualities; outsiders who travel the jungle a lot learn this Secret from other travellers or by superficially aping the Qek. Tsafari often know this Secret simply because they often have to travel to places that are not knotted yet.

Secret of the Wanderer
Some wanderers and fools trust in the jungle itself to take them where it will. When the character gets lost in the jungle due to a failed Jungle Travel (R) check or intentionally, the character disappears in the jungle (and loses his next scene, if applicable). Afterwards he surfaces in a knot chosen by the SG, at a moment chosen by the SG, but always in a meaningful way. Alternatively, the player may pay extra Instinct to gain choises: for each point the SG lists one more combination of time and place, and the player gets to choose when and where his character pops up from among the options. Cost: 1+ Instinct

Secret of the Hermit
The character can refresh his Vigor and Reason pools by spending a day alone from sunrise to sunset within a knot he knows. Cost: 2 Instinct

Secret of the Pathmaster
The character may create a Path between two knots he knows by travelling the route and succeeding in a Jungle Travel (R) check. The check may suffer penalty dice from distance or difficult terrain. If the route contains several geographical areas, all appropriate travel abilities are checked from best to worst, with bonus dice to latter rolls. Any character may use a Path so created to travel the route with a successful jungle travel or Wilderness Survival (I) check. The creator of the Path doesn't even need the Ability check. The Path becomes undone whenever either knot fades. Requirement: the character knows at least two knots.

[I'm uncertain whether this is the right way to deal with paths, might make them too difficult to create.]

Secret of the Stomping Ground
Whenever the character is in an Area delimited by Paths between knots he knows, he can make a jungle travel check to find anything appropriate to the area - people, waterways, caves, animals - whatever could be found in the area in principle. He can look for specific something, or declare a general type of thing like "Maldorite ruins" or the like. The SG creates the details. Unlikeliness may cause penalty dice. If the area limited by the knots contains several geographical areas, all appropriate travel abilities are checked from best to worst, with bonus dice to later rolls. Requirement: The character knows at least three knots. Cost: 2 from appropriate Pool: Vigor for geographical features, Instinct for animals and plants, Reason for people-things.

Key of the Knotmaster
The character has committed to preserving and upholding the frail knowledge of the jungle that various Tsafari have wrested from the land at great risk to themselves. This knowledge is the life-blood of Qek.
1 xp: The character's status (or lack of the same) as a knotmaster comes up.
2 xp: The character learns a knot from another character, or teaches one to another.
5 xp: The character creates a knot himself.
Buyoff: Unmake a knot.

Ammeni wealth

I don't think that this stuff is available in English anywhere. At leat the bits I've developed since publishing the Finnish edition certainly aren't. I'll just translate some stuff here and now:

Incomprehensible wealth

The Ammeni lords are unique, exalted beings in this time and age. They wield wealth that is not only all but monetized, but greater than any one man could ever hope to consume. They have capital, a concept near unknown in great parts of Near. This is a condition that gives the lords unprecedented options in elevating and ruining themselves and others.

First, Secret of Fortune:

Secret of Fortune
The character has more than any one person could ever need. The form of the wealth might be specific or everchanging, depending on the character. Any material Effects he chooses to garner by wealth come to him effortlessly, without Pool cost. The only limitations to this are practical, and the fact that the character needs to make a check with a potentially mediocre Ability (such as Bargain (R)) to create the Effect. In most situations the SG may assume that a wealthy character has the logistics to create one brand new Effect per scene or so. Effects need to still be supported normally in Refreshes. Requirements: Difficult to achieve, see below.

The Secret of Fortune is special, it cannot be bought just like that. Wealth is only made by planning, stealing or bequethal. Specifically, the Secret of Fortune is created like so:

Secret of Incubation (Fortune)
The character has a plan to create a fortune. The player lays out the plan in rough terms. The SG may challenge the plan freely in appropriate conflicts, making success part of the stakes. A failure in any such conflict means the loss of the plan and this Secret. However, when the character has succeeded thrice, the SG has to allow the player to exchange this Secret for the Secret of Fortune.

A character can have several fortunes, although he can only use one meaningfully. A character may also give away a fortune to another. A fortune can be stolen in appropriate circumstances: a tie in such a conflict could mean that the fortune is destroyed or lost, depending on the exact form it takes at the time.

Secret of Fortune goes usefully with the Ammeni Ability here:

Wealth (R)
The skill of handling and using wealth. This is somewhat different from Bargaining (I) in that the character knows how to preserve, increase and spend wealth efficiently. It's useful for hiding wealth, trading it, monetarizing it, moving it, buying things with it, tracking it in accounting and so on. In practice only characters who have the Secret of Fortune or accountants of one such may use the Ability meaningfully; the skills involved are not useful in other conditions.

Next, what does wealth mean to Near? This is what:

Secret of Client (Patron)
Not only does the client live comfortably (contingent on the pleasure of the patron), but he can also use the benefits of the Secret of Fortune just like he had it himself. Using the patron's wealth for exceptional purchases will draw his attention, of course. Requirement: Patron has the Secret of Fortune, willing to be the patron

Secret of Upbringing
The character has lived the life of the free man for years, acquiring the unmistakable polish of a person of means, one who has the leisure to attain what others cannot. He gains a bonus die for any finer pursuits appreciated by the high classes, and automatically recognizes another with this Secret. Also, he may dabble (as in, pick one thing) in cross-culture or otherwise limited crunch freely as inspiration takes him. Requirement: Secret of Fortune and time

Key of Corruption
The character has fallen prey to vices and entitled abasement unimaginable to the common man.
1 xp: Spend wealth frivolously.
2 xp: Assume expensive and vain habits.
5 xp: Hurt others for your amusement.
Buyoff: Lose the fortune
Requirement: Secret of Fortune

There should also be other Secrets in this stuff, but I haven't had time to figure them out. What I'd like to express is two-fold: on the one hand quantity has a quality of its own - quantity of wealth in this case; on the other, wealth can be used constructively and for the overall good as well, for which I'd like to give some tools. Still brainstorming this, need some killer application for the mechanics, perhaps. Or might be that minimalistic is the way to go for the mechanics.

Title: Re: [To Playtest] Colonization of Qek
Post by: JackTheOwner on December 13, 2008, 04:31:46 PM
Hi, Eero.
One question about this:
Key of Corruption
The character has fallen prey to vices and entitled abasement unimaginable to the common man.
1 xp: Spend wealth frivolously.
2 xp: Assume expensive and vain habits.
5 xp: Hurt others for your amusement.
Buyoff: Lose the fortune
Requirement: Secret of Fortune

Isn't a 5 xp option far too easy to obtain by player?

Like, he may have some slaves who are fighting on arena. Easy 5 xp, don't you think?

Title: Re: [To Playtest] Colonization of Qek
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on December 13, 2008, 07:44:44 PM
It's only easy if the character is willing to do it, which makes him a villain by most lights. I'd also sort of assume that repeat exercises would escalate and wary appropriately rather than becoming routine; if for no other reason, then because it's not amusing to pay the peasants to humiliate themselves in public time and again. And the SG of course should remember the golden rule: everything has consequences; every life you trample is one more enemy down the line.

All that being said, a group should never use Keys they don't like, understand or appreciate. I don't personally balance Keys based on how difficult it is for a given player (player OR Story Guide) to cause the conditions of the Key to come about - it's just fine for me if instead of the SG having the ultimate authority to frame a situation where a given Key activates it's the player who makes the call. The group should just remember that activating the 5 xp reward in a Key is a relatively big deal, so this Key wouldn't be appropriate for a character or campaign for whom it weren't that. Taking this Key is tantamount to accepting that hurting others without reason has its consequences.

I should mention here that I almost made the Key of Corruption into a Motivation Key. Perhaps that version works for you better:

Key of Corruption
The character has fallen prey to vices and entitled abasement unimaginable to the common man.
1 xp: Spend wealth frivolously.
3 xp: Hurt others for your amusement.
Buyoff: Lose the fortune
Requirement: Secret of Fortune

Now that I think of it, perhaps this version is the one I like more. Corruption is a bit of a liminal case for whether it's dramatic or motivational. Depends on how you view it, I guess.

Title: Re: [To Playtest] Colonization of Qek
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on December 14, 2008, 09:15:16 PM
Some additional notes. A group of my friends in Helsinki are apparently going to play this thing, so I got some pointers from them.
  • There should really be some rules for animals in a Qek-based campaign. The thing is, such rules would need to dovetail with the rules for ratkin, which makes it non-trivial. And I don't like Clinton's animal rules obviously enough, as those animals have more stats than even the most important of my NPCs. My current off-the-cuff solution is to make animals as NPCs with the "Secret of Mindless Rage: lift all limits on Vigor Pool expenditure." Most likely animals will have slightly more nuance ultimately, but not a lot - and whatever they have will also be available through some finangling for ratkin, wulfen, feral goblins and such.
  • The definitions of Wilderness Survival and Jungle Travel as Abilities need some work. Also, Jungle Travel and other possible Travel Abilities should be (V) in hindsight - I think I miscategorized earlier for some reason, or I haven't remembered yet why I originally chose (R). At this point a group should just let the SG make the call as to what WS can do vs. what JT can do.

Title: Re: [To Playtest] Colonization of Qek
Post by: oliof on December 15, 2008, 05:37:46 AM
I do animals as such: One Pool, one Ability, Ferocity (F). Special abilities come as Secrets if needed.

Let's not forget that the wild is for some Qek as the "civilized south" is for ammenites or maldorians. So, either whip up a "Secret of Jungle Dweller" which exemplifies the difference (mandatory for jungle dwelling Qek families, not so much the ones on the coast lines) to give the difference mechanical weight, or just keep it in the area of circumstantial modifiers. The Secret would be a nice way to for a savaged settler trope, especially if it brings some limitations.

Title: Re: [To Playtest] Colonization of Qek
Post by: oliof on December 15, 2008, 05:38:48 AM
Forgot to add: I will run a convention one shot in february, called "Penal Expedition", which will send some disgraced Ammenites into the deark heart of Qek.

Title: Re: [To Playtest] Colonization of Qek
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on December 17, 2008, 12:13:09 AM
Ah, that's quite excellent, Harald. Also interesting: the Helsinki group apparently settled for a penal colony independently. They had one session on Monday and another one today (they're on holiday vacation each, and want to get the scenario out of the way before Christmas), and from what I've heard so far, theirs is a rather gritty Near. The Ammeni are greedy, heartless bastards to a man, it seems, and Qek is a hell on earth with food spoilage, festering wounds and disease running rampant. Perhaps I'll get somebody to provide us with more detail, could be useful for new colonies.

Title: Re: [To Playtest] Colonization of Qek
Post by: oliof on December 17, 2008, 02:08:05 AM
That would be splendid.

Title: Re: [To Playtest] Colonization of Qek
Post by: dindenver on January 06, 2009, 08:13:05 AM
  I have two thoughts on this. I'll hit the first one, because its easier. Unfortunately, it is less productive as well.

  If I were to cast the Qek into a game that used the setting as is, I would probably cast them as the villain (more so than the Ammeni). The reason is, of all the nations, that the Qek are the least productive and least friendly. For instance, their primary trade is gems. This adds no value, but breeds envy, greed and other negative notions. Their people seem to lack all ambition, they are content to live off the land, as is, without trying to better themselves or their children. Finally, of all the magic in Near, theirs is the most sinister. With a sort of Macabre power source and the most potential for misuse (I mean you could, potentially, send a spirit unseen to spy on your enemies and rivals).

  Militarily speaking, the Qek have the perfect defenses. They are protected by very hostile waters and they are decentralized allowing them to operate essentially in a terrorist cell/guerrilla warfare mode from day one. So, if they were to engage in war, I see them doing a polynesian-style invasion with thousands of outriggers or something.

  Ultimately, I see them as the perfect breeding ground for a Thoth Amon type character and would use that as my primary source for a BBEG type campaign. I mean, all it takes is for onme of the waluzi to flee Qek and realize that they were basically unrestrained as soon as they were beyond the reach of their cultures taboos and influence.

  OK, my second thought was to make up a little faction thing for this campaign-let. Give me some time and I'll post it.

Title: Re: [To Playtest] Colonization of Qek
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on January 06, 2009, 11:10:39 AM
Hah, that's an excellent viewpoint! We had something sort of like this in the Finnish edition - there was this evil jungle-shaman-necromancer in the illustrations created for the book that was just dripping evil. I didn't realize it at the time, but now that you mention it, he was obviously going to travel and become an antagonist in the innocent southern lands and not just some curious sideshow for people coming to Qek.

I'll definitely have to put this suggestion in the book. I'm going to try to write frankly about some ways to use the setting, and this is certainly a fruitful viewpoint.

Title: Re: [To Playtest] Colonization of Qek
Post by: dindenver on January 06, 2009, 11:54:57 AM
  OK, so this is the idea I had for a basis for factions in a Qek Colonization campaign:

  I see the central conflict is resources.

  The key for the colonizing nations are:
Wealth - There really isn't any other motivator. It is not in a strategic location. It is not any more or less fertile than its neighbors. And with the obvious exception of gems and people, it doesn't have anything to offer. I think if there were an expedition to Qek, it would be very profit oriented. I think you and I are on the same wavelength, I had the Boer Wars in mind.

  The hold ups would be:
Who to send - I think it would be an interesting way to deal with political dissidents, send them to Qek to get them out of your hair. But you would have to send real patriots in order to make sure it doesn't become a hotbed of rebellion
Pacifism/apathy - I think that a lot of people would hesitate to support this kind of invasion
Capitalism - I think others would hesitate taking the wealth, when it might be more beneficial to trade for it
Inner turmoil - Others might use the colonization as a way to secure more influence on the home front

The key to Qek Resistance would be:
Protecting their family
Protecting their homes
Protecting their trade

The barriers to resistance might be:
Inner turmoil - Some people will be apathetic to the plight of others and still others might not react until the colonization affects them
Trade Shift - Some Traders might see a benefit in trade with the shift to colonization and/or war. these people will not be interested in resisting the colonization
Curiosity - I think these people will want to get to know their new neighbors.

  I think the real trick here is that the Qek in this campaign and the Khale in the other campaign are filling nearly parallel roles. Staunch defenders. In the end, it might be more interesting to use one over the other.

  If this overview is right, I'll make one of my spreadsheets and show you what I have so far.

Title: Re: [To Playtest] Colonization of Qek
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on January 06, 2009, 12:15:39 PM
Yes, I agree that the parallel nature of Khale and Qek as far as their relationships to other places go is a bit of a problem for trying to figure out what use they are. My best bet in this regard is to use them as foils and contrasts for each other. So whatever your campaign is about and in whichever place, the other place illustrates other choices and other possibilities. I'll probably say this in the book - when you need an individual barbarian character or a whole nation, it's basically a toss-up whether you should use Khale or Qek to fill the role. Use whichever you want, or even leave the nation unspecified and combine the two - I could well imagine playing a whole Maldor campaign where the difference between Khale and Qek never came up; individual "barbarians" could even be statted as amalgam characters with traits from both all nilly-willy to illustrate the Maldor-centric, civilized mind-space. It's not like the Romans are going to distinguish between the Gallians and the Germans in their internal situation, after all.

One factor that seems potentially pertinent in Qek is the idea of mystery and unknown forces at work. There are plenty of hints about forgotten cultures and hidden powers in the jungle, and it sort of seems to me that the Qek colonization will have to address this in some way - do the Qek know about these powers and are they able to harness them against the invader, or are such powers inimical to all humanity, for instance. In the Helsinki campaign they played in December, for instance, the guys ended up dealing with hermit walozi and gorillas of the misty mountains which neither were really friendly to Qek or colonizers either. They were just these forces that waited to be awakened to adverse consequence.

Title: Re: [To Playtest] Colonization of Qek
Post by: dindenver on January 06, 2009, 02:30:04 PM

  I'll fold in that hidden theme into my faction write up, wil probably have to wait til tomorrow, the rest of my day is pretty busy.

Title: Re: [To Playtest] Colonization of Qek
Post by: dindenver on January 07, 2009, 12:47:57 PM
  I added a Qek tab to the existing sheet at:

  Basically, I see a lot of people coming there for different reasons and then it all shaking out in the end.

Title: Re: [To Playtest] Colonization of Qek
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on January 07, 2009, 05:40:03 PM
Quite intriguing, lots of ideas for interaction and motivations there. The method you use for these is interesting, makes for a faction-rich game. Reminds me of Morrowind now that I think of it.

Title: Re: [To Playtest] Colonization of Qek
Post by: dindenver on January 08, 2009, 07:14:50 AM
  I fixed the Enemies and Allies. Yesterday was super busy and I didn't notice I forgot them til late last night.

  Yeah, I came up with this system as a way to force myself to look at the relationship between factions under a more objective light. Before I did this, I found myself either using old stereotypes (elves hate dwarves, etc) or trying "too hard" to go against those stereotypes. So, I formulated a way to find out what the issues were that were driving the conflicts in the setting and then codify the relationships based on that.

  In the KOTOR era of the star wars universe, the Sith is an empire separate from the old Republic, their territory is beyond the outer rim. What I discovered when I used this technique in that setting is that the Republic Military and the Sith Military complexes have a lot in common, with just he one except (light side versus dark side). And some of the enemies and allies that came from that analysis allowed me to really come up with some unique campaign ideas.

  So, this technique has served me pretty well. I just found that I have to do things in a certain order or the factions will be too formulated. Another pitfall is the alignment factors (i.e., Pro-Trade vs Anti-Trade), you have to be careful to pick one that is a more neutral term. Otherwise, you end up with all the good guys on one side and all the bad guys on another side. for instance, for this one, I tried using Pro-Wealth vs. Anti-Wealth (since Qek gem working is more about wealth and less about trade), but this did not work as it basically divided the factions into hippies vs conservatives. And while it was interesting, it was not very helpful as very few people do not want wealth.

Title: Re: [To Playtest] Colonization of Qek
Post by: oliof on January 08, 2009, 10:18:29 AM
One more resource other than diamonds comes from Qek, namely some rare spices and plants. But I agree that this is just a variant on the same theme.

Contrasting Qek with Khale or the other way round also fits the original writeup, since it is mentioned the Khaleans think themselves descendants of Qek. In a howardian fashion, one could surmise the Khaleans either cast off the bounds of primitivity or they devolved into some kind of misconstrued decadence, with their festive days and internal feuds polarising the conservative powers and the destructive nature.

If you look up Yesterday's Heresies, you'll find hints at blood sacrificing walozi controlling the inner jungle from the steps of their pyramids, too. This might be an additional explanation for the outer Qeks' lethargy: They dare not move around and stirring the interest of the Powers That Be(TM) in the Qek jungles that grow into the mountains.

Title: Re: [To Playtest] Colonization of Qek
Post by: Sam! on January 16, 2009, 08:45:58 AM
So, here are the experiences from Helsinki from a viewpoint of one player. Sorry for being badly delayed: We played the sessions in December, but Iíve been on holidays and busy with studies. Without any further excuses, here we go:

We played only two sessions, maybe about 10 hours altogether, so Iím not saying that the testing was throughout. There were four of us, three players and so three characters. One was an Ammeni sergeant, another was an Ammeni soldier of fortune and third (my character) was a Qek tribe woman. The game was focused to the Ammeni military base / colony, so my character was a bit in the shadows. Our characters gained about 2-3 advances during playing, so nothing much can be said about the direction of growth or change.

Also, as far as I know, we didnít much follow the guidelines suggested in the first post, so I donít even try to answer in the bullet points given there. We took the campaign idea, some tools provided for it and ran with that. What follows are things which we found out to be insufficiently explained or provided for our campaign. Not saying that you Eero should fix this all or that others would run into same problems and benefit from our experiences, but simply: here are thoughts from our sessions.

Oh, and sorry for some secret and key names. Cannot remember what they all are in English out of a sudden. Ask if wondering. Also, sorry for the excessive use of brakcets. I know it makes the text a bit messy, but I don't have time to hone the text.


Nothing much seemed to be happening in the jungle. There was no apparent conflict between the Ammeni and the Qek. Jungle was big enough for everybody and Qek families were pretty self-sufficient. We did create on the fly the idea of the Ammeni colony being a penal colony for those officers who have failed in the war between Ammeni and Khale. The actual soldiers were prisoners, mainly from a mine but also deserters and rebelling soldiers from Khale war, I recall. During the game we continued to deepen the divisions in the Ammeni camp. The mentioned sergeant was from a mine, where he had his own gang, Sledge. These were eager to take over the whole colony and, with the diamond trade and time, turn it into some sort of free port.

I created the invasion of bloodthirsty beast apes as a kicker for my character. This wasnít too effective in the fiction, however, as families were quite self-sufficient and uninterested to form an organized chain of resistance and common protection. During the game we had a bunch of low intellect or animal-like apes (some animals and some ape-goblins) and a society of beast apes (strong gorilla-like goblins, which had ape servants and apparently also some past trade relations with Ammeni).

Iíd say that in order to create more dynamic situation there should be more factions. Especially Qek folk remained passive. Even if they are supposed to be loyal only to their own family, one family might be practically slaves of Ammeni, another working for them and third actively working against them. Similarly Ammenis could have different approaches, like the military core led by the captain, who wishes to tame the jungle, the rebellious thugs seeking to escape through revolt and cunning (well, despaired actually) merchant trying to acquire the riches of the jungle. Then there could be also goblin apes, walozis and Shar-Tek to keep player characters occupied and producing situations for choices.

Exploration and getting lost in the jungle

The basic idea was that jungle is a dead-serious place for both Ammeni and Qek. The only places you could go to where places you already knew. For my character this meant a problem, when I wanted to find a place to gather cocoa. I wanted a larger supply, which would not require constant gathering checks or would remove penalty dice from herb lore checks for cocoa or would even give a chance to make the check and find cocoa (cannot remember which). I managed to pull the roll, but since I didnít have free advances or time to wait till the new moon, I couldnít tie the place. Therefore I didnít have any chances of finding the place again. It sure made the jungle feel impenetrable, but it also made exploration quite frustrating. Itís hard to be a native guide, when the only places you can find your way to are home, a sea shore and Eagle cliffs.

As part of this, hunting in the jungle for an Ammeni was nigh-impossible. I recall that the player first had to make a check about finding any game animals, then another getting near them and third slaying them. The first one was of course penalty died, due to having only woodscraft and not jungle travelling (or whatever you call it in English).

Getting lost was just a consequence or a ďbring down the plot hookĒ for the SG, akin to a refreshment scene.

Ammeni against the jungle

If the jungle was so bad-ass, it would probably devour the colony, donít you think? It was clear in the fiction, that the colony survived only because Ammeni constantly shipped there new soldiers. Technically the whole Ammeni population would be changed in less than a year (though I donít think we followed this idea in the fiction). But how does the game system show this? Or is it just the SGís call when the wounds become inflamed, the food is spoiled and buildings collapse? When do the Ammeni run out of clean water, cloth and fresh bamboo spears?

Linked to this, how do the Ammeni make colonization happen? What kind of abilities or checks should the Ammeni player characters succeed in, so that they could adapt and become self-sufficient? In short: what to do, when Ammeni try to do something in order to purify the muddy parasite-ridden Qek river water?

Ideas suggested for this was to create the jungle as a side character against which to declare conflicts, make problems into effects which colonialists can overcome through successful ability checks or to have Qek folk actively sabotage the colony (again giving an opposition for conflics). The secret of incubation is of course one option as is also the idea that no checks can be made: the problem must be solved through interacting with different Qek groups (no-one is and cannot be fully self-sufficient, hence laying a source for drama).

Encounters with the savage

There were no bilingual player characters at the beginning of the sessions. The negotiations with the furious apes were mostly roleplayed, describing characters actions. As the soldier of fortune spent some time as a slave for beast apes, the player was granted to purchase the secret of Qek language. No problems over here, actually.


As was mentioned in the previous post, we only gained 2-3 advances each, so we didnít get to buy too many secrets or keys. Iíd say that the secrets bought were knots and the secret of Qek language. The keys... the Ammeni sergeant had the key of criminal (wheeling and dealing with his Sledge gang) and the soldier of fortune had the key of outcast and of glittering gold. The latter one bought also the key of smart-ass (xp for bitching others). My character had the key of family: personal (we had the conversation whether you can / must have a different key for every family, like ďpersonalĒ, ďparentsĒ and so on), of tsafari and bought the key of diplomat (very similar to the key of pacifist).

Iíd say that the only key that didnít quite work was the key of tsafari. It costs five xps to acquire a knot, and if you happen to learn it from someone, you get one xp. Itís a better bargain if you make the knot yourself (get three xps, spend five), but since finding new places was so very difficult and binding an already bound place would erase the previous knot (thus causing everyone having the original knot to lose it, right?), it wasnít really an option.

(All in all, being a tzafari is bloody expensive advance-wise, but so is being a three-corner wizard, so maybe Iím whining for no reason.)

Title: Re: [To Playtest] Colonization of Qek
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on January 16, 2009, 01:24:14 PM
Ah, thanks for the report, Sami. Given that your character was the one most entailed in the knot and travel mechanics, a few questions:

Did you find that getting lost delayed or frustrated play, or was it an interesting constraint and source of danger?

Did you use paths? Using paths does not require Advances, so they are the safe and simple way (or the safest and simplest, anyway) of traversing the jungle. I'm also interested in this because I'm considering removing the explicit knot connection from paths - makes creating paths relatively hard if you need to have two knots for it; makes sense on the other hand, if we presume that any two points for a path to run between already need to be somehow significant for the path to matter in the first place.

Did you require characters to always find their way to a discrete "place" in the jungle if they wanted to do something specific? How did you determine whether some activity required traveling the jungle as opposed to staying put? Your example about gathering cocoa beans seems like a sort of liminal case to me - I could imagine running it with a simple food-gathering Ability check, presuming that suitable cocoa bushes might exist close enough to the character's current location that no real "travel" in abstract, mechanical terms would be required. I suppose this depends on how rare cocoa is imagined to be, but was the possibility of not tackling the travel mechanics on the table?

Would you say that the mechanics would flow better if you got more knots per Advance? Or would it be a better solution to create stories where individual knots were more important?

Did you get to use your knots for anything else apart from travel? Did you find individual knots frustrating, useless and difficult to learn? Should there be some sort of baseline Secrets that help bootstrap a beginning character? The crunch doesn't do a very good job of supporting a native guide -style concept, I agree; that'd require a number of advances. I'm thinking of something like this to help:

Secret of Home Turf (Area)
The character has lived his whole life in a particular patch of the Qek jungle - he is practically a part of the living roho itself, and there is little that escapes his notice. The character is assumed to know all knots in the Area without needing to spend Advances on them - he also regains all Advances spent on knots in the Area. Knots explicitly created during play by characters do not count for this effect. When an applicable knot is revealed in play, any other character who knows the knot may check Jungle Travel (R) to show that the knot has, in fact, never been taught to this character. Requirements: Three knots.

Do you think it would be a good idea to turn knots into Effects, removing their Advance cost? This would enable a character to have many more knots with much less experience spending. It would also lessen the ties Qek have to the land, as they could just get new Effects for new places with little fuzz.

As can be seen, most of my questions concern whether the knot mechanics can be used facilely in actual play. They are balanced mechanically, but that is not much use if the players find it awkward to make full use of them.


As for your question concerning practical issues of colony-keeping, Solar System is quite relaxed when it comes to these issues: if you don't have a character to play against, then characters just need to succeed in simple Ability checks to succeed in whatever seems reasonable. (If you're wondering what constitutes a character, check the last chapter in SS - I classify different sorts of SG characters there.) Perhaps the more problematic issue is whether something is reasonable; can the Ammeni even try to figure out how to get fresh water in the jungle? I suggest that the simplest solution is to always accept the possibility if the player asks for it and the SG can imagine the game continuing with the fictional consequences - if it fits with the setting and situation, then it's applicable as an object of resolution.

Also remember to not burden your play with unnecessarily many Ability checks. Often enough individual checks are enough to establish direction for the events - if you failed to find water today, do we really need to roll for it again tomorrow? Perhaps we do, perhaps we won't, but it basically depends on the local understanding of the fictional situation.

Title: Re: [To Playtest] Colonization of Qek
Post by: Sam! on January 22, 2009, 04:15:31 PM
Here we go with a bunch of answers. Got to get this done, before I forget it all.

Quote from: Eero Tuovinen
Did you find that getting lost delayed or frustrated play, or was it an interesting constraint and source of danger?

More frustrating, I'd say. My character's skill in Jungle Travelling was 2, so I pretty much cleared it everytime. However, I was required to make a check everytime my character moved along a path or straight to a knot, so I rolled a lot (like getting to meet my character's mother-in-law required one roll to get to Eagle Cliffs, another to follow the path to her own parents' home and another to follow the path to get to meet the mother-in-law). The idea behind was probably just to make me check until I'd fail, so that the SG could toss me to some ungodly place. Sure, the possibility of failing at any time you move through the jungle makes the place feel a bit dangerous, but it wasn't too rewarding.

Quote from: Eero Tuovinen
Did you require characters to always find their way to a discrete "place" in the jungle if they wanted to do something specific? How did you determine whether some activity required traveling the jungle as opposed to staying put? Your example about gathering cocoa beans seems like a sort of liminal case to me

Yes, there was a situation, when I needed to do some First Aid check and supported it with Herb Lore. So essentially my character just searched healing herbs from nearby her home. We did discuss the fictional rarity of cocoa and also about how easy it would be to collect (like how many doses can you get with one check). As I mentioned earlier, there are many possibilities why we ended up with the search for a cocoa valley.

Quote from: Eero Tuovinen
Would you say that the mechanics would flow better if you got more knots per Advance? Or would it be a better solution to create stories where individual knots were more important? Did you get to use your knots for anything else apart from travel? Did you find individual knots frustrating, useless and difficult to learn?

Yeah, I'd say that the problem with knots was mostly that they were useless. Or in other words, we didn't know how to use them efficiently. In either case, compare to Secrets: it's easy to say what a given Secret can do. But what's with a single knot? It's just a light house in the pitch-black jungle: a guide for travellers. They become more efficient when you have three of them - and even then you have to use another Secret (and pool points) to turn them into an area. Knots weren't too hard to obtain in the fiction: several NPCs were willing to teach their stuff (even if their stuff was pretty non-dramatic, like relatives' homes or Gathering grounds or Tiger glade). I just couldn't produce enough xp to keep on going.

It's like... without knots your character's world is just plain empty. So you need to get knots just to have places where your character can go to. In order to actually benefit from knots, you need to gather several of them and then knit them together into a web. This, however, is extremely slow (expensive in experience points) process. And even then I'd say that they are less useful than same amount of Three-Corner Secrets: less combinations, less mechanical effectiveness. Just knowing (or finding) stuff is different from being able to do stuff.

Or maybe my approach was just wrong. Just having a knot for home and another for Diamond Mountain and third for some place familiar to Ammenis would have everything a dramatic set would need. I just went for "let's explore the jungle by knowing a lot of knots" -plan.

Title: Re: [To Playtest] Colonization of Qek
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on January 22, 2009, 06:01:59 PM
Quite so. I find it believable that knots might be overpriced as is - I can see how to make them work, but it'd require the SG to specifically lean on the system in a holistic manner to make it worthwhile. This might very well be a case of outdated mechanics - I hadn't developed the Effects rules and such when I wrote the knot stuff, so it's originally made for a bit different environment.

One option would be to make knots into Effects, but that doesn't capture them correctly in the fiction. It seems that what I need to do is to make knots somehow usable even for characters who don't know them and allow characters to use paths without Ability checks. That should cut down on the unnecessary pressure. Perhaps add to the usefulness of individual knots by tying some second-order effects into them that help characters navigate the jungle. Have to think about it.

Title: Re: [To Playtest] Colonization of Qek
Post by: oliof on January 23, 2009, 02:15:54 AM
What about a quick change to the rules that you pay for Areas as secrets, but can use knots and paths before that, and get XP in the relevant Keys for knots still? It's a bit of an overhead, but I'd argue that knots and paths are just some kind of (very specialized) equipment that you can use for good synergistic effects when spending an Advance to make them an Area.

Title: Re: [To Playtest] Colonization of Qek
Post by: oliof on March 02, 2009, 02:27:24 PM
I played a really short adventure in the 'colonization of qek' setting. It was good, but very Ammeni-centric due to the way I set it up. The whole game had a touch of Roanoke (as far as I can say, I don't own the game) as it centered on the way the colony reacted to the influx of new settlers and a power mad ammenite Inquisitor. We had great drama in the end when Leonce Phol attacked his son Qem Phol, the Inquisitor, to save his love from certain and the new settlers from uncertain doom.

More details will follow when I finish writing up my prep notes for public consumption.

Title: Re: [To Playtest] Colonization of Qek
Post by: shadowcourt on March 05, 2009, 09:09:20 AM
I can certainly add that while I love the way the knot and path system has made me excited about the Qek jungles, I've been worried about its cost in Secrets being prohibitive. There aren't a lot of other situations where you end up paying a Secret cost for game information or ordinary gear, at least in the way the groups I've played in have worked. No one's had to pay a Secret for owning a home, working in a tavern, or even owning weapons or a horse if they had a Scrapping or Riding ability.

The Effects rules might be a much better placement for this, I agree, Eero, particularly in that Effect dice are so easily passed back and forth to other players. Maintaining multiple knots and paths might be somewhat prohibitive in terms of total pool cost, though, correct? Perhaps a variation on your Secret of the Home Turf might be helpful in bridging that situation where a group of regularly used knots need to be upgraded from Effects to something more permanent?

I guess one of the questions that circulates around this is: are tsafari and others forced to constantly maintain the paths and knots, lest they atrophy, and the ever-growing jungle consume them? This effectively has the techniques of a verdant jungle which is constantly changing and growing-over paths and concealing cool sites. But it also puts a lot of heavy lifting on people who are maintaining these Effects, doesn't it? For instance, the beautiful knot map in this thread has a total of 14 knots, though granted not all of them are actively linked with paths. That seems a lot of pool expenditure for characters, particularly when some of these map nodes are really places where the Ammeni and Qek families are just hanging out, doing their thing. If we're representing the jungle's tendency for growth, then maybe knots and paths are sometimes just maintained by regular use, which can take some of the effect cost off of the tsafari, and make the Effects they maintain really special?

In that case, maybe the Secrets could run more like this:

Anyone with Jungle Survival can:
  • Establish or maintain a knot just by inhabiting an area. A knot is a relatively safe area where you can trust that your provisions won't be automatically befouled by the jungle or stolen by scavengers, and you can have shelter and safety. Knots are ideal locations for refresh scenes. Establishing or maintaining a knot means taking care of a camp site, scaring off animals and clearing out new vegetation from the quick-growing jungle. Anyone can leave a site unattended for several days without losing the knot that's there, but this requires a Jungle Survival Effect, with each effect die maintaining it an additional day.
  • Maintain a path between two established knots by making a Jungle Survival (R) check once per day, which involves walking the path and clearing it. So long as a path is maintained on the map, it is usable by anyone else who walks it in that day, travelling from knot A to knot B. A path can be maintained for several days after its use, but this requires a Jungle Survival Effect, with each effect die maintaining it an additional day.
  • Maintain an area (a space defined by three or more knots). This requires awareness that all three knots are maintained, which is done either by visiting them yourself, maintaining a path effect, or receiving word via messengers from the other knots (allowing them to maintain the path). Thus areas tend to be collaborative regions which are maintained by a small cluster of Families, who have to make some show of mutual reliance on each other. An area is a place where you can hunt, gather, and perform other actions in the jungle with relative safety and assurance of a minimum of wild animals and intruders. Jungle Survival checks allow you to know when there are dangers present in the area, and are instrumental in realizing that one or more paths or knots aren't being maintained, and the area is atrophying to just a "V" formed by three knots and two paths, or even just three isolated knots.
  • Try and find a knot without a path. The difficulty/opposition of the check is determined by distance, difficulty of journey, and Storyguide fiat. Failure equals immediate danger for the person wandering the untamed jungle. A knot which is inside an area but not linked via a path (see the Clear Pool example in the map on the previous page) is substantially easier to find than one which is free floating in the world (the Ape Cliffs or Old Ruins).

Characters who don't have Jungle Survival--outlanders and invaders and such--are forced to use Woodscraft or other abilities, but they're out of their element to start. This should have a minimum effect of a penalty die on all checks, which should particularly stack nastily with trying to find knots without paths.

This also means your trusty jungle guide is immediately way more useful, even if all he's done is take a Qek cultural ability (which he might've grabbed through some sort of nifty Secret if he's an outlander).

As to the Secrets which actually play with knots and paths and such:

Secret of the Tsafari
You are talented at recognizing and finding "knots", marking places in the jungle, and establishing safe paths between them. You receive a bonus die on any Jungle Survival check to find a knot without using a path, or to notice that an area is atrophying because its paths or knots aren't maintained. Once a day, you can make a Jungle Survival check without spending a point of Reason to establish and maintain knot and path Effects, maintaining the knots and paths you know by either actively keeping them clear or else anticipating the growth of the jungle so that the minor atrophy which these sites go through all the time doesn't obscure them from your discovery and use.

Secret of Knot Attunement (or some other appropriate name...?)
Any knot you maintain through about two hours of work can be attuned to a specific task, aligned with the roho of the area for beneficial effects. Specify one ability when you maintain this knot which is appropriate to the area; the Storyguide may determine that specifying the First Aid ability is inappropriate to a viper den, or that Distillation does not work at a roaring waterfall (though it might just as well be exciting to say that the snakes' poison can serve as a useful ingredient in antivenom, and the rushing pure waters of a waterfall are essential for some concoctions). Anyone using the specified ability in the knot is considered to have the Secret of Ability Enhancement (and can spend unlimited pool points when using this Ability to gain bonus dice). Knots only stay attuned in this fashion for a day, but you can extend their duration the same way you would maintain any other knot, by spending Effect dice from a Jungle Survival check (one per day). You can use a Jungle Survival Effect pool to "cache" bonus dice for ths specified attuned ability at the knot, which you or other people you teach about the knot can access. This might represent special provisions you hide in the knot, or simply a sort of jungle "feng shui". Prerequisite: Secret of the Tsafari. Special: A knot may only be attuned to one ability at a time.

Secret of the Jungle's Bounty (a rework of the old Secret of the Stomping Ground)
When you are in an area you have helped to at least partially maintain (by maintaining one or more of its knots or paths), you can make a Jungle Survival check to locate anything appropriate to the area-- people, waterways, caves, animals, rare goods-- whatever could be found in the area on principle. You can look for something in specific (i.e. a lost child) or declare a general type of thing (i.e. travelers). The Storyguide creates the details. Unlikeliness may result in penalty dice on the Jungle Survival check. Prerequisite: Secret of the Tsafari. Cost: 2 points from an appropriate pool: Vigor for geographical features, Instinct for animals and plants, Reason for people-things.

Secret of the Knotworker
You can do much more with a knot than even other tsafari. You can make a Jungle Survival check to assess a knot, determining who has maintained it recently, recognizing an individual or a group you have encountered before, or determining some facts about them if you've never met them. You can also break any maintained knot or path (including the effects of an attuned knot), inviting the jungle's encroachment in once more, though this may require a contest against the person who maintained it. You can actively conceal your own signs of the knots and paths you maintain, requiring anyone who discovers them to make a Jungle Survival check to even realize that they have been established or maintained. Prerequisite: Secret of the Tsafari.

I'd say the Secret of the Hermit works alright as is in this version (I guess the idea behind that is that you're isolated in the jungle, so it might be hard to refresh Vigor and Reason without other people, but you can always hunt animals to get that Instinct back?).

Any thoughts or comments? With this system, you can hopefully maintain a bunch of pretty story-useful knots and paths just via having characters inhabit them. To refer to the knot map earlier in this thread, for instance, all of the Family knots are always maintained just by inhabiting them, as is the Ammeni Trading Post (so long as there are regularly traders there; otherwise, when the Ammenites come back after a week, they have to clear out kudzu and monkeys who are despoiling their little outpost). The paths between Family knots are maintained through walking them each day (a single Jungle Survival check) or walking them once every couple of days and establishing them as Effects. It doesn't take a true tsafari (jungle guide) to do this, but he does it cheaper than anyone else, thanks to his free Effect pool per day. So long as the Runti, Itzel, and Maxtla maintain their own knots (which is just standard work at the homestead each day) and keep their paths maintained (either daily travel or effects), the reap the rewards of their safe Moot Grounds area, and can even reach the Clear Pool knot without too much danger, despite the lack of a clear path. If one of those knots isn't maintained (a family gets attacked, is forced to relocate or travel) or a path isn't maintained, the entire area becomes vulnerable, and you can bet that the Clear Pool is going to be a more dangerous location (because wild animals might consider it their watering hole now).

Knots like the Runti Trapping Gorge and the Gem Flats require regular maintenance of the path or else the path deteriorates and they have to be searched for once more. They don't disappear off the map; they just become the equivalent of what the Ape Cliffs or Honey Trees are-- people talk about them, they just don't know how to get to them reliably and safely. The same is even possible for reliable paths which don't have to be maintained-- you could argue the Coastline is effectively a path that isn't going away in the near future, and that a mountain ridge could serve as a quasi-reliable path, if there were knots that were worth tying at either end. Otherwise, it's just a feature of the jungle, and doesn't help you get anywhere in particular. You go from being lost at one end to being lost at the other.

Authorship of an entirely new knot probably shouldn't be the province of a Secret, unless people are really dying to have it be such. I'm not sure I'd make it grounds for a Secret in Maldor or Zaru when you discovered some new hideout or useful place--instead, it's the focus of drama. Keeping it intact, and either keeping it secret or keeping paths maintained to it (or both, if you're greedy!) becomes an element to deal with in game tension, and is thus way less inert than a Secret is, which is often semi-inviolate.

So, that's a stab at it. Not sure if it's helpful, but it might at least be closer to what you were thinking these days, Eero.

-shadowcourt (aka Josh)

Title: Re: [To Playtest] Colonization of Qek
Post by: shadowcourt on March 05, 2009, 09:37:19 AM
I should add, as a postscript, that part of my incentive around this was to do the following:
  • Force families to communicate with each other more, so that these little "islands" in the jungle have a very social reason to go interact. As such, there's an opportunity to hide in your little knot if you want, but you don't reap many benefits. Instead, you've got to send your sons and daughters out to maintain those lines by visiting your neighboring knots, which leads to all sorts of potential drama ("Bakish went missing while maintaining the paths! Where is he? Form search parties! Contact our neighboring families to beg for aid! This is their moot grounds, as well!"), which means you've got grounds for small family diplomacy and a culture which has a need for more mutual trade and mutual aid. Nobody wants to visit your inlaws, but if you don't periodically, you might find jaguars inhabiting the Clear Pool in your Moot Grounds.
  • Have situations which can destablize. When the Tazamec family to the far east goes missing, your area can fall apart quickly. What do you do? Maintaining a knot where you don't live takes real work. Will the other two families combine their efforts to turn the southern knot into a little outpost which they share the burden of maintaining? What will they do when this starts to stress their resources? Will this prompt an early marriage between a son and daughter of the other two families, just to have some kids to shove out there and keep the knot (and by extension, the paths and area it defines) from falling apart?
  • Keep the jungle discovery work from being all on the Qek side. People love to play the bad guys and invaders in most groups I've ever played in, so allowing the Ammenites to have a chance at finding all this stuff seemed to make sense, particularly in light of some of what Eero said about invading the knot network and becoming so dangerous thereby. Hopefully it forces some hard choices about how and when you isolate or build/maintain a path. It also makes it a little more clear, hopefully, just how and why you might sever a path or abandon a knot to let the jungle take it. This also hopefully protagonizes the Qek a little more, as well, making them less purely reactive and more actively engaged in maintenance or discovery of their stuff. In my mind, they are NOT in perfect harmony with the jungle. They've got to keep those borders and paths clear, or else it swallows them up. This also feeds my evil agenda about where the Qek really came from up north, and why those northern patriarchs haven't swept down to just gobble the Qek back up.

-shadowcourt (aka Josh)

Title: Re: [To Playtest] Colonization of Qek
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on March 05, 2009, 02:49:55 PM
That's some serious feedback, Josh. Thanks for lifting my spirits. I'm swamped with work right now, though, so can't shift through the nuances this week. I get the impression that you're mostly putting this stuff out for my benefit (as opposed to needing feedback yourself), so I'll just make a note of this and get back to it when I have the time. I've been working on the witchery stuff lately anyway, have to get that into some sort of shape before I nail down the knotwork rules.

Title: Re: [To Playtest] Colonization of Qek
Post by: shadowcourt on March 06, 2009, 11:16:49 AM

Yeah, that was mostly an attempt to retool it for you, so you might not have to. I like my peanut butter smooth, but my posts pretty crunchy. I loved the knotwork rules when I first saw them, and had some anxieties about how it would work, but was still eager to use it. I haven't had a chance to field test either the old version o this one yet; I've sworn I was going to do a story set in Near's north, but have been too occupied with work and other games (including using the Solar System to play a massive romping Stone Age game, which is about 2 sessions from being finished...) to do it. That, and I have the rest of the whole "Near's Arid North" stuff to hammer out.

But this was an attempt to do a quick rethink based on your Effects rules and the stuff you'd already established with knotwork. Use or modify at your pleasure. It's hardly original work on my part, just be riffing.

Funny that you're working on witches. I've been lamenting that my version of Goren has little to no non-witchy cultural flavor. I was just about to post a public call for help lamenting that I need some ideas, if anyone has them, on how to make those Russian-y/Viking-y folks have a bit more spice.

Maybe I'll start a thread about it, and solicit ideas.

-shadowcourt (aka Josh)